Money and Relationships

Money discussions are rarely just about money. They’re about values and what you want your money to do for you.

  • Are you a spender or a saver?
  • Is your partner a spender or a saver?
  • What happens when your spending habits are not the same?

Most couples and partners have different opinions about spending and financial priorities from time to time. That’s to be expected. The challenge is learning how to talk about differences. When couples don’t talk about money, whether large amounts or small, they can misunderstand one another.

This module takes about 20-30 minutes to complete. By the end of this module, you will be able to…

  • …recognize how your personal values play a role in your money decisions and relationships.
  • …communicate more effectively about money within your relationships.
  • …decide financial roles within your relationships.

Complete the following pre-learning check to test your knowledge. Answer “true or false” to the three statements below. Click on the blue box to find the correct answer.

Communicating once every year provides enough time to talk about money goals, look over monthly expenses, and consider future income.

False. Regular money discussions throughout the year give partners the chance to talk about money priorities.

It is a good idea to discuss saving for unexpected expenses during a monthly money meeting with your partner.

True. Monthly money discussion topics can range from planning how to save for the future to coming up with ideas to reduce credit card debt.

Your partner’s or family member’s values should be the same as your values in order to have a successful relationship.

False. Your partner’s or family member’s values can be and probably are different than yours in some ways. The goal is to have a way to talk about money and make money decisions together.

Money beliefs and Conflict

Arguments about money are one of the leading causes of divorce in the United States, but it doesn’t need to be a source of stress in your relationship. Watch this UW Mindful Money Moment video to learn more on how to have successful money conversations with your partner. What are you already doing that works well? What new tips can you try?

One source of conflict may stem from how differently people are raised to think about saving, spending, and investing. Research tells us that, when we are young, we see our parents as financial role models and learn things from them that we may take on as part of our own personality. These early money beliefs are partly why money is sometimes really hard to talk about—because there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s about personal values. Values are what’s important to you, what you cherish about yourself and your relationships with others. Your values are what helps to guide your decisions.

When people argue about money, oftentimes it’s not about the money but instead about different or even conflicting values. For example, one person may value spending money as a way to feel independent or spontaneous, while their partner might value the security of saving money.

One task of partnering up with someone is to decide and agree on how to handle your money together – even if that means keeping your money separate in the relationship. This can help to stop each person from judging the others’ spending decisions in the future. We all need a bit of wiggle room within our budget to reflect our values. Finally, have a plan about how and when to talk about money disagreements—because they will come up!

A man and a woman smiling while looking at important papers

Let’s learn more…

Explore and understand your own relationship with money.

You can start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What are my money goals? You may be saving money for a home, new car, paying off debt, or a family trip.
  • What makes these goals important to you? Often, a goal is important because it represents something for us. For example, getting your own apartment means you can take care of yourself. Or buying a car gives you a sense of freedom.
  • How do I prioritize my goals? All goals are important and we’d like to reach them as soon as we can, but most of us have a limited amount of money to put towards each of our goals.
  • What are my values around money? For example, if you value sharing, you may like to give gifts or donate money. If you value security, having an emergency fund may help you sleep better at night.
  • What are my money habits and behaviors? Are you carefree and spontaneous? Do you track your spending?

If you want to explore your relationship with money, be sure to look over the Money Matters ‘Your Financial Strengths’ module. Here are a few worksheets to learn more about your values and money:

Starting the Money Conversation

How often should you talk to your partner about money?

A monthly check-in is a great place to start because many bills are on a monthly cycle. A monthly check-in gives you the opportunity to look over finances based on your bills and budget. Be sure to add an extra check-in time during the month if a big expense comes up that might throw off the budget. Couples may want to discuss and agree on what a ‘big expense’ might be. Anything over $50? Or $100?

Where should you talk to your partner about money?

A comfortable, neutral place without distractions. Turn off the television and your notifications on your devices. Talking about money can be stressful. To lower your stress and maybe even make it more fun, include a treat or plan to do something you both enjoy after the check-in.

What money topics could you talk to your partner about?

Here are some ideas:

  • Monthly
    • Discuss your budget to compare income to spending. Some months will be more expensive than others because life is full of ups and downs. If you had an unusual month, you can talk about where to cut back, spend, or save for next month’s budget.
  • Quarterly
    • Talk about financial goals that you’d like to reach in a few months, next year, or even years from now and how to prioritize them. Financial goals might include retirement planning, children’s education, a new appliance, etc.
    • We all have only so much money to work with. Figure out what feels like a good compromise for both of you for a shared goal, or couples can discuss other options, like an equal amount of money that goes towards each of their top priority goals.
    • Every four months, get your free credit reports to share with each other. Order your free report at
  • Annually
    • Early in the New Year, talk about taxes, insurance, and annual expenses, such as back to school time or holiday spending.
    • Revisit your conversation about what a ‘big expense’ means before buying that more expensive item. Determine the dollar amount you both feel comfortable using as a guide for when to check in with each other. Is it $50 or $100?
    • Consider discussing topics related to Advance Directives for healthcare decisions and Estate Planning every year to talk about any changes in your family situation in the past year that could trigger a change in beneficiaries such as a new child or other paperwork that needs to be updated.

Need more help on where to start your money conversation? Take a look at this resource from UW-Madison on “How to talk about money.” 

Resolving Communication Challenges

Making financial decisions is a challenge for every family. Have a plan to talk about money disagreements. It’s easier to talk about how to settle a disagreement BEFORE it actually happens.

If you run into problems making decisions, these problem solving steps might be helpful:

  • Define the problem, be specific. For example:
    • I want to put $50 a month towards our credit card debt. It doesn’t make sense to me to keep paying all that interest to the credit card companies.
    • My partner would rather put that $50 a month in emergency savings. If we have another emergency, we’d have our own money to spend instead of putting the expense on a credit card.
  • List ways the problem could be solved. Write down all possible solutions that come to mind without judging.
  • Now look over the solutions listed. Decide if they are workable and practical.
  • Decide how you will choose one of the solutions listed. A few ideas might include taking turns on who gets to decide, using one idea from each person, or writing down the ideas on scrap paper and picking one at random. What works for you both?
  • After you pick one solution, come up with next steps to try it. When will you start? Who’s in charge of what steps? When will you check-in on your solution again?
  • Think ahead. What might stand in the way of reaching your goal? How can you avoid these obstacles? What or who could support your success?

For more tips, check out this publication on “Communicating About Money and Money Issues” from North Dakota State University.

Additional Resources for Money and Relationships

Resources to Help with Money Conversations:

  • UW Extension Tip Sheet: Money and Relationships
  • Talk About Money Worksheet: Family members could answer these questions separately and then compare answers. The similarities and differences that turn up can spark a discussion about family attitudes and practices
  • Managing Family Lending and Borrowing worksheet from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Before financial support promises or resources are exchanged, talk with
    your friend or family member. This worksheet has questions to consider when having a conversation around lending money.
  • The Money Circle Toolkit from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. These worksheets look at money from a few different angles:
    • Money Choices – This tool will help you see who shapes the money choices in your life and what makes those choices easy or hard.
    • Money Styles – Your ”money style” describes how you make money choices.
    • Money Network – By mapping your personal money network, you can begin to see how different people participate in and shape your money choices.

Resources Related to Relationships and Wisconsin Laws:

  • Marital Property: Answering Your Legal Questions from the State Bar of Wisconsin – What is marital property? What is individual property? What if my spouse and I disagree about marital property?
  • Advance Directive for Health Decisions – this is also known as a Healthcare Directive and tells doctors and family about what medical treatment you want if you are so sick you cannot make decisions anymore. Unlike many states, Wisconsin is not a “next of kin” or “family consent” state for adults. That means Wisconsin law does not let family members make decisions for incapacitated adult family members. As a general rule, spouses cannot make decisions for spouses, parents cannot make decisions for adult children, adult children cannot makes decisions for parents, with some exceptions for hospice and emergency care. A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, also known as a Healthcare Proxy, appoints a person to make health care decisions for you. Notarized signatures are not required on these forms, but you do need two witnesses when signing. Both forms are easy to fill out and can be downloaded from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website.

Test your knowledge

Money and Relationships QuizThere are many things to consider while communicating about money with your partner. Take this 10-question quiz to review the basics and test your knowledge. You can take it as many times as you want.

Certificate of Completion

If you’d like to certify that you’ve completed this module, be sure to contact a UW-Madison Extension Financial Educator to find out about program requirements.